Building a website in Markdown with Pandoc

Fast Web

© Lead Image © Martin Blech, Fotolia.com

© Lead Image © Martin Blech, Fotolia.com

Article from Issue 252/2021
Author(s):

Build a simple web page in Markdown; then convert it to HTML at the command line.

Creating a website is a lot of trouble – especially if you just have a few files you wish to publish online. You could type in all the HTML codes by hand, or you could employ a graphic design tool that looks simple but still might be more effort than you want to spend.

Another easier option is to use Pandoc [1]. Pandoc is a universal document converter. You can give Pandoc a text file in any of several markup formats, and it will convert the document to any of several output formats. One common scenario is to format a text file using the simple and expressive Markdown markup language and then use Pandoc to convert the file to an HTML page. Pandoc is a command-line tool, so it allows you to convert a file to HTML in a single command. A collection of command-line options lets you add extra features to the web page, such as a footer bar or a rudimentary navigation menu. With the right libraries, Pandoc can even read programming languages.

You wouldn't want to use Pandoc for a complex site with interactive features and a backend database, but if you are just looking for a quick-and-dirty tool for publishing text to the web, Pandoc is a very good option. For instance, some organizations use Pandoc in situations where there is a need to maintain documentation that is accessible from the command line but still easily convertible to HTML.

Markdown Magic

The scenario begins with a text file in Markdown format. This article is not intended as an introduction to Markdown, but if you're looking for a primer, you'll find several cheat sheets and tutorials online [2]. Listing 1 shows a sample Markdown file. As you can see, the format is largely self-explanatory.

Listing 1

Sample index.md

01 # Escape Mundane Life
02
03 On this website, you will never be ~~BORED~~!
04
05 ## Fun Jokes
06
07 Well, come up with something yourself!
08
09 ## Pure science
10
11 The best way to get to the truth about werewolfs!
12
13 | Moon phase      | Phang size | Measurement time | Result |
14 | ---             | ---        | ---              | ---    |
15 | New Moon        | 0.1        | 00:14            | Skinny |
16 | Waxing Crescent | 0.2        | 00:21            | Skinny |
17 | First Quarter   | 0.6        | 00:09            | Normal |
18 | Waxing Gibbous  | 2.3        | 00:32            | Strong |
19 | Full            | 9.3        | 00:19            | Bulky  |
20 | Waning Gibbous  | 6.1        | 00:59            | Dirty  |
21 | Third Quarter   | 0.8        | 02:01            | Flappy |
22 | Waning Crescent | 0.2        | 00:01            | Skinny |
23 |                 |            |                  |        |
24
25
26 ---
27
28 ```
29 {
30     "Human name": "Ben";
31     "Wolf Name": "Slasher";
32     "age": "32"
33 }
34 ```
35
36 > Conclusion
37 > Ben is a *Werewolf* who should build his human body! [^1]
38
39 ## A link to the city.
40
41 - Some Pictures!
42   1. A bustling City!
43
44      ![Big City](https://www.abc.se/~m9779/images/Storstan.bmp)
45
46   2. Chilling in the bay!
47
48       ![Some boats](images/boats.bmp)
49 ---
50
51 [^1]: Ben is fictive name.
52 <C>

You will quickly notice Markdown features such as headings (with # for a top heading and ## for a second-level subhead). Double tilde makes the text strikeout. You can also make tables with a simple combination of pipes | and dashes -.

To convert the Markdown text in Listing 1 to an HTML page, run the standard Pandoc command:

$ pandoc -t html index.md -o index.html

Pandoc outputs to standard output unless you specify an output file with the -o parameter.

Structure

Your Pandoc-generated website will be simple and relatively sparse, but you will still want to be methodical about keeping it organized. Pandoc only generates one page at a time, so to reduce clutter and confusion, set up a basic directory structure for your source files – something like in Figure 1.

Figure 1: This sample tree is a suggestion, but make sure you know where your original text is and where you put your result!

In the src/ directory, put your index.md, about.md, and other Markdown files you will convert to HTML for your site.

Options

The pandoc command has many additional options. By default, Pandoc creates document fragments. If you would like to output a standalone HTML document (with <head> and <body> sections), use the -s or --standalone option. The --standalone flag supports some other options for where to locate text:

- -H --include-in-header=
- -B --include-before-body=
- -A --include-after-body=

A CSS file is required when generating an ePub but is optional for simple, standalone pages.

If you want to maintain your site using many files, you can list all the files as input and output straight to one file.

pandoc *.md -o index.html

This command will process all the .md files in the order they would have been listed by ls. In most situations, you will want more control over where the content falls within the output file, so processing the files in ls sort order has some complications – you might want to consider more sophisticated techniques.

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